Words by Evan Green. Photos by Evan Green, Sara Robbins, Grant Robbins and Lio Delpiccolo
We met at the trailhead on a Friday evening as grey skies blotted out the sunset, warning of an impending storm.
Slogging 5 miles with 2,500 feet of vert up a snow-covered Jeep road with gear (and whiskey) laden packs by headlamp was no easy task. But arriving at the Jackal Hut as snow flurries began to fall, we knew our efforts would be worth it.
We cracked open the door and fired up the old wood burning stove to warm our toes before calling it a night. Tomorrow would be a big day.
Mountains have a way of making connections between the people drawn to places with obscure trails, tough ascents and amazing views. The crew that I gathered with at Jackal Hut was no exception.
Four years ago, I found myself skinning up a ridge in Estes Park. It was late May, and like clockwork, a series of upslope storms had coated the upper elevations. This last storm had dropped 18 inches of dense, irresistible snow.
From behind, a voice rang out, “Thanks for breaking trail.”
“No problem” I replied, glancing back to see three skiers and a snow-covered dog making quick progress up the skintrack.
The trio soon caught up to my group as we slogged upward. They introduced themselves as Grant, Sara, and Lio along with Summit the Samoyed.
We worked together breaking trail for a bit. You might have a dozen encounters like this in a season—casual conversation about snow quality and what we packed in our lunches, with Summit bounding in and out of the track. They left an impression as we connected over chasing the storm, the intricacies of best locations to drop back down the mountain and the cameras strapped to their packs.
After a while, the trio split off to transition for a run down through the trees. Like most other backcountry skintrack encounters, I never expected to see them again.
Sharing pictures on Instagram the next day, I noticed photos of the trio and fluffy white dog tagged at the same location as mine. Intrigued, I started following them and scrolled back through their photos, and I realized how much our adventures had overlapped.
Connecting the dots between obscure basins, remote peaks and hidden gems revealed a common love for the mountains. Maybe our chance encounter was one we’d get to repeat someday.
6 months later, I was surprised to see them walk through the front door on a winter trip to the Eiseman Hut in Colorado. Unbeknownst to me they had been invited on the same group trip by a mutual friend!
With soft snow, good friends and endless touring out the front door, we quickly became enamored with visiting the numerous backcountry huts across the state. Our chance encounter turned into a shared appreciation for these huts.
That's what led us to take a gamble on the weather and snag a coveted late January reservation at Jackal Hut last winter.
Located on a knob at 11,000 feet between the Sawatch and Tenmile ranges in Colorado, the hut is known for its location just outside of historic Camp Hale military base—and for holding excellent snow on the north-facing slopes.
Despite the climb and uncertainty with planning ahead, it was all worth it when we saw the forecast call for a major storm system the weekend of our trip.
For the next two days, we explored open meadows, tight trees, and pillow lines blanketed by a fresh coat of snow as squalls moved through the area. Feeling the wind on my face, observing the weather roll in, heating the hut with wood from the forest, recharging a few gadgets just by solar power, drinking fresh snowmelt—our days were simple and perfect.
Staying at the hut, my relationship with nature and friends felt far more tangible than in everyday life. Perhaps that’s what I love most about these experiences—that the time spent exploring with good friends makes me feel even more connected to the mountains.
It’s always hard to leave a hut when the snow is falling and laughs keep coming, but our reservation window was up. And without a shower, we were pushing the limits of wool’s antimicrobial power.
We cleaned up for the next group, locked the door, and clicked in for one last run down back to the trailhead. Reaping the reward of the strenuous approach, cheers of joy echoed through the woods as we plowed through the powder with heavy packs.
We reached our cars and headed our own ways. The fun subsided, but we were thankful for an amazing experience in Mother Nature.
What would our next adventure be, I wondered? It only took a moment to realize I just needed to stay in tune with mountains for the time and place to reveal itself again.